Speaking to CNBC at the recent Money 20/20 fintech conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Chief Executive of Barclays said that they had been in discussions with both regulators and fintech forms about “bringing into play” bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies into play.
Ashok Vaswani said that they had met with the Financial Conduct Authority who are the UK’s financial watchdog to discuss about how they could make bitcoin safe so that they could support it as a bank. Speaking at the conference he said:
“We have been talking to a couple of finches and have actually gone with the fin techs to the FCA to talk about how we could bring, the equivalent of bitcoin, not necessarily bitcoin, but cryptocurrencies into play. Obviously (it’s) a new area, obviously an area we’ve got to be careful with. We are working our way through it.”
Whilst Vaswani did not go any further into what Barclays may have planned for bitcoin, they have recently been getting more and more involved with the digital currency space. Their main move was to partner with the social payments app Circle in 2016. This startup, which has a licence from the Financial Conduct Authority allows its users to send money to each others in the form of messages, supporting various currencies including bitcoin. Barclays provided Circle with an account to store sterling, as well as the payments network to transfer money.
Many have seen Barclays attitude to bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general as refreshing as traditionally banks have been very cautious about being associated with any form of cryptocurrency, afraid of their reputation being tarnished because of the fact they can be used on the so called ‘dark web’ to purchase illegal items such as drugs.
However, the fact is that both the interest in and actual use of bitcoin and other currencies is rising, especially in ecommerce. This has led to their price reaching record highs recently and whilst it has pulled back slightly in the past few days, it is clear that the growing interest from companies like Barclays is giving digital currency more and more legitimacy. For example Russia has been looking at ways to regulate bitcoin and Japan have made it legal for merchants to accept bitcoin as payment. However, in the UK, the authorities are more cautious.
Chris Woolard, the FCA’s executive director of strategy, said that there needs to caution from institutions dealing with bitcoin.
“We don’t prohibit regulated firms from engaging in digital currency trading, nor do we prohibit banks from offering banking services to deal with currency firms that use [blockchain]. I am not saying that we view digital currencies as an inherently bad thing… but we do have to exercise a degree of caution,” Woolard said at a recent event, according to website Financial News. However, this does not seem to have put Vaswani or Barclays off from embracing bitcoin and other digital currencies.
“(We’re) working on it, (it’s) not ready for prime time, we’ll get there soon,” Vaswani told CNBC.